What Makes Something Surprising?

Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 105 (1):195-215 (2022)
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Abstract

Surprises are important in our everyday lives as well as in our scientific and philosophical theorizing—in psychology, information theory, cognitive-neuroscience, philosophy of science, and confirmation theory. Nevertheless, there is no satisfactory theory of what makes something surprising. It has long been acknowledged that not everything unexpected is surprising. The reader had no reason to expect that there will be exactly 190 words in this abstract and yet there is nothing surprising about this fact. We offer a novel theory that explains when and why an unexpected fact is surprising. We distinguish between descriptive and normative notions of what is surprising; clarify the sense in which surprising facts are unexpected; and, finally, develop and defend the significance account of surprise, according to which a fact is surprising to an agent if and to the extent that it is both unexpected and significant to the agent. Since a surprising fact can be significant to an agent in various ways—personal, moral, epistemic, and aesthetic—surprise is not merely or primarily epistemic. Fitting surprise reflects more than a person’s view of what is; it reflects a person’s view of what is significant.

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Author Profiles

Oded Na'aman
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Dan Baras
Bar-Ilan University, Ramat Gan

Citations of this work

Calling for Explanation.Dan Baras - 2022 - New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Encroachment on Emotion.James Fritz - 2022 - Episteme 19 (4):515-533.

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References found in this work

On What Matters: Two-Volume Set.Derek Parfit - 2011 - New York: Oxford University Press.
Knowledge in an uncertain world.Jeremy Fantl & Matthew McGrath - 2009 - New York: Oxford University Press. Edited by Matthew McGrath.
Doxastic Wronging.Rima Basu & Mark Schroeder - 2019 - In Brian Kim & Matthew McGrath (eds.), Pragmatic Encroachment in Epistemology. Routledge. pp. 181-205.
The Normativity of Rationality.Benjamin Kiesewetter - 2017 - Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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